SITUATION ANALYSIS OF PUBLIC PARTICIPATION IN THE SOUTH AFRICAN LEGISLATIVE SECTOR
As part of the Action 24 Project ‘Broader and effective participation of South African Civil Society in Environmental Governance’ implemented with co-funding from the European Union, a situation analysis was conducted on the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa and on the legislatures of four provinces: Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and the Western Cape. The aim was to explore the various mechanisms that exist for public participation in South Africa and to determine how well the public is able to engage in law-making and oversight processes.
The intention of public participation and involvement in democratic processes is primarily to influence decision-making processes so that these decisions ultimately reflect the will of the people. Despite a public participation framework being in place in South Africa to give structure and guidance on how to foster public involvement in the work of the legislative institutions in practice, it is evident that there are challenges with how public participation is being implemented in South Africa. The challenges to meaningful public participation include limited resources on the Legislature side, lack of public interest or knowledge, poor communication by the Legislatures, inadequacy of some engagement platforms, an absence of feedback from the Legislatures, and a disconnect between participation and the publics’ contributions actually influencing policy decisions.
When considering the role that public participation plays in improving environmental governance, it is acknowledged that the processes may not be sufficient to tackle environmental challenges successfully without the provision of adequate and accurate information, coupled with the necessary budgetary support (Aylett, 2010). As such, the report finds that educating and informing the public on sustainability issues and engagement opportunities is essential to empower them with the information that enables them to participate meaningfully.
Despite the limitations of this situational analysis, particularly the small sample size, a number of best practices in public participation in the legislatures were identified using an Appreciative Inquiry approach. These include:
The Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, and Western Cape Provincial Legislatures have developed and customised their own public participation frameworks and strategies to guide the involvement of the public in policy processes. Similarly, National Parliament has drafted a public participation model which aims to outline and mainstream norms and standards for public participation in parliamentary processes and procedures so as to achieve meaningful involvement of the public in law-making and oversight.
Parliament and the Gauteng Provincial Legislature have embarked on a number of evaluations and benchmarking activities and have conducted research on the gaps in their public participation mechanisms. These are designed to allow continuous improvement in public participation.
The Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape Provincial Legislatures and Parliament have begun leveraging new technology for communication such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Western Cape Provincial Legislatures have specific budget line items for public participation. It is commendable that specific budget allocations are made for public participation. Expenditure reports are produced by each of these provinces to account for the use of public funds, including the funds spent on public participation.
The Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Legislatures have invested in language services to translate communication materials in an effort to address the language barrier in public participation.
The Western Cape Provincial Parliament (WCPP) has a comprehensive website with information on public participation processes including a calendar of events, contact information for WCPP staff and forms that can be completed to request any additional information that is not available on the website.
WCPP has a monitoring mechanism for tracking on indicators specific to public participation year on year.
The KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo Provincial Legislatures publish some of their activities on Facebook, including their weekly programmes.
The Limpopo Legislature broadcast the proceedings of its 2018 Youth Parliament on 10 community radio stations, thus allowing a broad audience to hear the discussions on youth issues. A progress report on the resolutions of the previous Youth Parliament was delivered during the event, which is a good example of providing feedback.
Based on the findings of this study, a series of recommendations to achieve meaningful participation are presented. It is however recommended that further research be conducted to analyse which public participation mechanisms are not effective and why; and to thoroughly review the adequacy of provincial budgets in fulfilling their public participation mandates.
→ Avoid ‘catch-all’ public participation meetings: In some cases, public participation meetings are arranged to deal with a range of wider issues in a way that some issues are not accorded the attention they merit. It is important to convene more focused meetings.
→ Conduct periodic research on shifting modalities and patterns of community engagements and associational life: It is important to ensure that tools of public participation are adapted to shifting trends in terms of ways in which communities interact and associate. For example, it might be important to know how the youth engage with each other as a way to get them involved in public participation
→ Stakeholders should be engaged on an equitable basis: It is important that all stakeholders participate on an equal footing. Civil society organisations should be involved since they represent the broader community interest and they will equalise power between the political elites and the broader communities.
→ Innovate and harness technology to facilitate access to information: Access to information remains a huge issue in South Africa. The use of social media and new ways of engaging with communities in languages that they can understand needs to be considered in facilitating public participation. This will also reduce the high costs of convening lots of meetings in different locations. The information needs to be simple and non-technical in order for the general public to understand. Avail information about the work of the legislatures including their work programmes and staff contact details. This information should be easily available, and timeous in order for the public to engage proactively.
→ Encourage formations of community-based organisations on issues: Formation of community-based organisations increase the capacity of communities to bargain better and engage with institutions in pursuit of their goals. This ultimately improves on the quality of public participation and democracy in general. This is essential for environmental policy making processes especially as it is clear that the general public is not well equipped to participate meaningfully on the issues at hand. Leverage civil society and community-based organisations in mobilising the public around specific issues and empowering citizens with skills to participate effectively. For example, public speaking skills, reading and writing responses to policies and policy analysis. Empower the public to proactively participate by taking the initiative to approach legislatures and parliament with their concerns without waiting for an invitation.
→ Collaboration among all stakeholders: It is essential for all stakeholders involved i.e. Civil society, Parliament, provincial legislatures, academia, community-based organisations and community leaders to work together to address issues regarding public participation. There has to be a ‘mind-set shift’ in order to define what meaningful public participation should look like in South Africa as well as institutionalising public participation best practice.
→ Strengthen feedback mechanisms: Weak follow up of issues raised by the public and lack of feedback mechanisms in particular undermine public participation
→ Consider reforming the electoral system: Currently SA citizens elect representatives though a ‘closed list’ proportional representation system PR system. While this system has its merits for example it encourages fairness and gender diversity, it has shortcomings because voters elect a party rather than an individual, they may not know who their MP is and it is difficult to establish a strong relationship. In a constituency-based system, committees vote for a representative in a particular geographical area and the candidate with most votes is elected to represent them. In the PR system, political parties assign geographical areas to their members after election, but constituencies are not well defined and links between communities and representatives are weak. As a result of these short comings a reform of the SA electoral system is recommended to ensure that political representatives truly represent the communities they serve.
Disclaimer: This web page was created with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of the African Climate Reality Project and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.